Five reasons why employers can’t be work friends

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There’s nothing wrong with employers caring about their staff, but when managers have work friends it can lead to all kinds of HR trouble. As a good employer, you care about your people and want to create a friendly, supportive and happy workplace for everyone. It’s no surprise that employee wellbeing has moved to the top of the agenda in recent years, as businesses want a healthy and productive environment.

However, managers need to tread a fine line between being caring and supportive and becoming work friends. Essentially, this can lead to conflicts of interest and a steaming heap of trouble. Here are my five reasons why employers can’t be work friends…

1. Redundancies and restructuring. Becoming too friendly with a particular member of staff can lead to favouritism, where you treat them differently to other employees. This can be dangerous when you need to make important decisions in your organisation around redundancies and restructuring. How can you objectively decide who stays and who goes when it involves your friends?

2. Sharing information. As an employer, you have access to a lot of sensitive business information, such as financial reports, upcoming plans and staff data. You need this information to help you make important decisions about your operations, but it must remain confidential. For example, if your company is performing badly and needs to make cutbacks, it would be irresponsible to share this with your work friends. Imagine if you knew closures and redundancies were planned, just as your friend is about to book an expensive holiday – would you tell them? Then there is the issue of sharing your personal details (and problems) with your work friends. You could put them in a difficult position with other employees, as they would have the pressure of keeping the juicy gossip to themselves.

3. People problems. As a manager and employer, part of your role surrounds maintaining and enforcing company policy. If a member of staff is having too many absences or is under performing, you might need to take disciplinary action. You have a responsibility not to share this sensitive information with your work friends, especially while the correct procedures are being conducted to rectify the issue. Confidentiality must come first, otherwise you will lose the respect of your employees.

4. Social media. Posting on social media has become a minefield for both employers and employees. If you have work friends, you will probably socialise with them and might even go on trips or holidays together. Pictures of you enjoying sunny beaches or sporting events together will create negative feelings among employees back at base. Do you really want your staff to know all about your life outside of work?

5. Teacher’s pet. All of the above can have implications for your work friends too, as they might be treated differently by their peers on the shopfloor. Other workers might resent the fact they your friends appear to receive special treatment with easier tasks, fewer targets, more praise and better pay and conditions. Even if you believe that this is not the case, others might have that perception.

Conclusion.  As you can see, there are plenty of pitfalls for employers who have work friends. To minimise the risk of problems in the future, you need to ensure that you treat everyone fairly. For example, include everyone in business communications and social events. Keep all your conversations with individual members of staff confidential, and make sure that everyone knows that your personal friendships are separate from your business duties. Finally, avoid recruiting friends and family!

My name is Jo and I run JT HRConsultancy, an established HR services company based in Bedfordshire with clients across the UK. If you need help of advice on an employment issue, call me on 07715 026128 or email

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